Liberia’s former president, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says the United Nations must find effective means of stopping conflicts that could escalate into full blown armed conflagrations, because conflict prevention is less costly than maintaining peace.

Serving as one of three speakers who briefed the United Nations Security Council Wednesday May 27, 2020 via a high-level videoconference open discussion on the annual report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2020/366), Madam Sirleaf said, “Unerringly, some of these conflicts are so protracted. Not only have we seen multiple actors in conflict, but also, many have been born and have died without experiencing what it is to be a child or to be an adult with achieved aspirations and rights. Instead their lives been defined, often shortened and narrowed by conflicts they have had no part in creating. It is time to act with boldness. Because, unless we do so now, we will lose many more lives, many others will have life-changing injuries and millions more will be forcibly displaced. We must find a way to end this cycle of immeasurable loss and human tragedy.”

The former Liberian leader said while there is sufficient proof that there is a concerted effort to end ongoing conflicts, any semblance of a just compact between these states and their peoples, any possibility of addressing the inequities and injustices which have often fueled the conflict as prerequisite for developmental transformation cannot be met; and even worst, can be lost for more generations to come.

“This too, is why I could not agree more with the Secretary General, that the most effective way is to protect civilians by preventing the outbreak escalation, continuation and recurrence of armed conflicts. This brings to me the second point. The conflict adverted often does not make headlines, but it saves lives and livelihoods; and in this regard, nothing could weigh more on our collective consciences, or on the desk of this Council, than the urgent need to stop ongoing conflicts and preventing new ones.

I know that preventing conflicts is never easy; and yet, our collective experience shows that it is less costly, if not easier, than ending them. Consequently, where peacekeeping mandates now need to be changed, we must change them. Where missions need to be reassessed, we must reassess them; where this Council needs to be broadened and strengthened to reflect the changing realities of our world, we must adopt and reform; where individual members are holding the Council back by narrow self-interests and the unattended use of the veto power, we must find a worldwide formula to preserve the collective interest,” Madam Sirleaf noted.

She furthered that the world cannot simply resign itself to a sense of hopelessness in settling for and accepting the continuation of many of these prolonged carnages.

“After all, the United Nations and its many organs, especially the Security Council, represent hope- hope for peace. Seventy-five years ago, our nations acted with courage to end a global war. This Council now represents the hope and aspirations of our global community for international peace and security. We must find the political will and commitment long absent; and we, you must act now,” Sirleaf noted.

Said Sirleaf: “Today our world is beset with increasing conflict and growing threats of violent extremism, and a young population increasingly desperate for living in peace. We simply cannot afford to continue living this way. It is time to change.

I understand that the United Nations alone cannot handle our conflicts. It requires a multitude of actors and commitments, including the involvement of women through the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 which remains the key ingredient for peace. But I also know that the role of the Security Council is pivotal – truly a Council that is more representative of all the peoples of the world, so as to be effective in ending and preventing conflict.

A Liberian, I am grateful to the Security Council and the larger United Nations for supporting the interventions which helped broker and bring peace to my country. However, in my country, like in many places of ongoing conflicts, the fault lines and signs were visible for many years.

Simply put, protecting human rights, ending impunity and the use of preventive diplomacy are crucial to stopping conflict before they rage into full conflagration. We must not ignore the many signals today and delayed actions that are required to prevent conflict.”

Madam Sirleaf also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 5 million infected and over 300,000 deaths worldwide is a painful human tragedy.

“I extend deepest condolences to all those who are grieving for loved ones and pray speedy recovery for those who are infected.

And yet even in this period of sadness, we are reminded of many important lessons which we must use to prevent conflicts and war. The first is that women’s leadership or their participation in gender equal governance, has often made the difference in this fight.

Secondly, the virus is a pandemic. Without regional and global solidarity, the whole world will be more deeply and tragically affected. From global health and human development to peace and climate change, we need more multilaterism and not less. Only by working together can be find the cures for our common challenges and as well as make the world safe or better and more peaceful.

Thirdly, leaving impoverished nations at an ongoing medical research, and hopefully, the development of needed cures doesn’t mean that wealthier nations can continue to live a protective bubble.

Fourthly, we face an urgent need to reset the world to highest standards of international cooperation and peace as the most enduring and sustainable path to successfully confronting our common challenges, as well as ending ongoing conflict and preventing future ones – this pandemic has humbled all of us and has given us our greatest test in living memory. The truth also is that it is not beyond you to pass this test. However, to pass this test will redefine the course of human history. Let us not fail ourselves in posterity. I do not know how many will be infected; how many lives will be lost; or where growth projections and human development indices will be before this pandemic ends. But I do know, as if we needed further proof, that we are more connected and interdependent than we’ve allowed ourselves to believe, and have committed ourselves to act together.

I know like others have said that the world and our lives as we know it will change. It is now upon us to ensure that changes are for the better, for the good of humanity. Indeed, we face a test for lifetime. May we find, may you find, the courage as it was in 1945 to also answer for a lifetime,” intoned Madam Sirleaf.

The discussion offered an opportunity for an exchange on the current state of the protection of civilians in armed conflict; on enhancing compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law and accountability for violations; and on concrete steps for the implementation of the protection of civilians agenda by Member States, the United Nations system and civil society, including in the context of new challenges and developments, among them the COVID-19 pandemic.

The open high-level videoconference was presided over by the Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations, Sven Jürgenson. The President of the Republic of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, delivered the statement for Estonia.

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer and Nobel Peace Laureate and member of The Elders, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf provided briefs for the Security Council.

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